Music: Sergei the Somber

The Moscow psychiatrist leaned forward intently. "You will write your concerto," he intoned. "You will work with great facility ... The concerto will be of excellent quality." On the couch lay Sergei Rachmaninoff, 27, in a hypnotic trance. At the time (1900) Rachmaninoff was noted as a pianist and conductor. But as a composer he was notorious. His First Symphony had been premiered three years earlier to unanimous disapproval, so shattering his confidence that in the time since he had been unable to compose at all. Of his monumental block, Rachmaninoff recalled years later: "I felt like a man who had...

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